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!!!, Tristeza, The Good Life

The Sokol Underground, Omaha
Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2000

First off, let it be known that four-band bills at The Sokol Underground may be too much of a good thing. At least half of the 160 who paid to get into the Nov. 1 Tristeza/The Good Life/!!!/Real-Time Optimist show had high-tailed it before the last band (The Good Life) finally got on stage at nearly 12:30 a.m. It would mean a painful wake-up call the next day for those of us who work or go to school. In retrospect, it was worth the agony.

Though the crowd may have come out to see Tristeza or The Good Life, they went ga-ga over !!! (That's right, the band's name literally is three exclamation points, pronounced chick-chick-chick or pow-pow-pow, according to the show's promoter). The 8-piece all-white funk band was a cross between Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Wild Cherry, though not as funky as either. The crowd ate it up, thanks to their thick dance beats and who-gives-a-damn stage attitude. They were having a good time, and so was everyone else.

Next up was Tristeza. This is the second time in less than a year the San Diego-based all instrumental act has come to Omaha with its moody, trance-like headphones music. Tristeza blends duo guitars, bass, keyboards and a rock-steady drums for an effect thatís more soothing than rocking, at least this time around. Though they played some of the best stuff off their new CD, Dream Signals in Full Circles (on Tiger Style), the overall set was more subdued and repetitive than last April's Sokol gig.

It was also much longer. Tristeza stretched out their usual 20-30 minute set to well over 45 minutes, leaving The Good Life with only about 20 minutes of stage time before the lights went up.

The Good Life is an Omaha-based 4-piece led by Tim Kasher, the primary singer/songwriter in Cursive, Saddle Creek Record's angry young man, post-punk rock band that sort of balances Bright Eyes' sadness and The Faint's New Wave dance rave-up. Whereas Cursive basks in an all-out sonic assault, The Good Life, especially on their CD, Novena on a Nocturn (Better Looking Records), revels in laid-back, acoustic-based melodies that highlight Kasher's husky, breathy vocals and tender-hearted songwriting skills.

For the CD release party, however, The Good Life added a bit of muscle to their set. Playing on a stage that was barely lit, Kasher and company (drummer Roger Lewis, bassist Landon Hedges, keyboardist Mike Heim almost invisible on stage), performed harder, angrier versions of songs that, for the most part, are downright soothing on CD. Charmers like "The Moon Red Handed," and "Your Birthday Present," rocked nearly as hard as some Cursive numbers. A couple new songs performed that aren't on the CD indicate that Kasher will take The Good Life to even more tuneful territory next time he enters the studio.

I got into an argument with the hip, sweater-wearing emo guy standing next to me on the half-empty Sokol floor about who Kasher sounds more like -- I said The Cure's Robert Smith, he argued Morrissey. We both thought the other was totally wrong, but agreed that this easily could turn out to be our favorite band among the Saddle Creek-related projects.

The evening's highlight was Kasher and company's final number, "A Dim Entrance," which happens to be the first song on Novena. Kasher opened the song singing alone, backed by a prerecorded drum machine that mimicked a similar effect on the CD. This time, however, it was less subtle and more distorted. When Lewis came in on drums, it added even more resonance and depth. Easily the best song on the CD, the live rendition takes the peaks even higher before coming down to Kasher, singing alone to the bitter end -- an amazing moment, too bad so few people were left to see it.

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Published in The Omaha Weekly November 8, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.